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Donde estas? En el medio del mar.

Where are you? In the middle of the sea.

At sea off the coast of Cambados in Galicia, Spain

At sea off the coast of Cambados in Galicia, Spain

That was the message I got from my daughter and my response to her.

Our study of the Galicia autonomous region included a small municipality with 14,000 inhabitants named Cambados. Its major source of income and livelihood comes from three major industries that are intertwined – fisheries, wine, and tourism.

Municipal Office of Cambados

Municipal Office of Cambados

We learned about how small government units function as part of the autonomous regions. Depending on the population size, the responsibility of the municipality grows, like providing health care centers, parks, and transportation.

The alcalde (mayor) took us to their fish depot where fish were auctioned daily.

Selfie with Sen. Koko Pimentel at the fish depot

Selfie with Sen. Koko Pimentel at the fish depot

We then took a boat to see their version of “fish pens” which were floating rafts with ropes that went 12 meters down into the sea. The shellfish – mussels and scallops – cling to it and grow to full size before being harvested.

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Their boats have big windows below deck so you can see the ropes and the shellfish.

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Of course to pair with their seafood is their local white wine, which they boast is in demand all over the world.

A typical meal is their sardines or mussels served with cheese on cracker or bread.

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We capped off the visit with a tour of the 400-year old family-owned winery.

One of the rooms in the winery, with a hand-painted wall done in the 1800s.

One of the rooms in the winery, with a hand-painted wall done in the 1800s.

That was one inspiring little municipality.

Earth Day

I am so proud to wear the Philippine map on my face for Earth Day.

#EarthFaces is a project of Niccolo Cosme and the Climate Change Commission

#EarthFaces is a project of Niccolo Cosme and the Climate Change Commission

It was way back in 1970 when Earth Day began. A full forty-four years ago, 20 million Americans rallied for the protection of the environment. Today, more than 150 countries and over a billion people celebrate Earth Day the world over.

For Earth Day, I decided to create a simple photo blog highlighting my Senate work and projects to save our environment.

We all have different environment projects we like to support. That’s all good. But we need to ensure that our children are raised with the consciousness that they are caretakers of the environment, and that they are equipped with the information to make earth-friendly decisions in their homes and their own communities. That is embodied in the law I sponsored, RA 9152 or the Environmental Education Act.

I love running and I love trail runs in the mountains. In my first term, I started hearing the Sustainable Transportation Bill. Sadly, almost 10 years later, it is not yet a law.

The gruelling 37km Mt. Ugo Sky Run is one of my fave races of all time.

(Feb 09, 2013) The gruelling 37km Mt. Ugo Sky Run is one of my fave races of all time.

A project close to my heart is the MRF – Material Recovery Facility in Taguig in coordination with Barangay the Fort and the City Government. It showcases how waste, when properly segregated, can be drastically reduced, and eliminate tons of garbage in landfills.

(April 17, 2013) A project close to my heart is the MRF - Material Recovery Facility in Taguig in coordination with Barangay the Fort and the City Government. It showcases how waste, when properly segregated, can be drastically reduced, and eliminate tons of garbage in landfills.

April 17, 2013

Biking! My favorite human-powered mode of transpo. I still hope for the passage of my Senate Bill on sustainable transportation, which calls for a policy developing efficient and healthful mass transit, and more walk ways and bike paths.

LRT Bike On Bike Off (Nov. 08, 2009); E-jeep with Greenpeace (Bacolod, Jan. 23, 2008); E-trike with Former Mayor Hagedorn (Palawan, Feb. 16, 2008) Biking! My favorite human-powered mode of transpo. I still hope for the passage of my Senate Bill on sustainable transportation, which calls for a policy developing efficient and healthful mass transit, and more walk ways and bike paths.

LRT Bike On Bike Off (Nov. 08, 2009); E-trike with Former Mayor Hagedorn (Palawan, Feb. 16, 2008); E-jeep with Greenpeace (Bacolod, Jan. 23, 2008); 

In 2008, I visited a plastic recycling plant where plastic products from PET bottles to plastic “sando” bags are recycled.

(Sept. 29, 2008) Visit to a plastic recycling plant in 2008 where plastic products from PET bottles to plastic "sando" bags are recycled.

Sept. 29, 2008

 

Nature has given us everything we need to thrive and survive. We can all do little things that will protect the environment, so that our children, and their children after them, can inherit a better place.

 

References:

http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2014/04/140421-earth-day-2014-facts-environment-epa/

http://www.earthdayphilippines.org/the-network

Victory in the Supreme Court: Reproductive Health Law is Constitutional

By a unanimous decision, the Supreme Court declared the Reproductive Health Law as constitutional.

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This is the final victory of a long-fought battle – one that lasted almost two decades and several Congresses – to provide Filipinos with a most basic right: the right to reproductive health.

Today, this gives us the green light to continue and institutionalize programs that will provide Filipinos, especially women, access to information and services to have a safe pregnancy, plan their families, and be responsible persons.

Based on the press conference of the Public Information Officer of the Supreme Court, we understand that portions of the law were declared unconstitutional, particularly parts of Sections 7, 17, and 23.

Primarily, these provisions relate to the obligation of private health facilities and health care service providers, including those owned by religious groups, to refer a person seeking reproductive health services when it conflicts with their ethical or religious beliefs.

Although I disagree with this part of the Supreme Court’s conclusion, this does not affect access by those who need it most – the poor. Public hospitals and health centers will provide a full range of reproductive health services. This was upheld by the Supreme Court.

I still believe in the constitutionality of each provision as I have studied these thoroughly and defended it on the Senate floor throughout the 15th Congress (2010-2013).

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Then in 2013, numerous petitions questioning the constitutionality of the RH Law were filed. I joined the fight to defend its constitutionality and argued our case before the Supreme Court.

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The full decision has yet to be released. When I see it, I will be able to make a more comprehensive review.

But for today, I can say that despite all the difficulties, I love my job because of the opportunity it has given me to fight side-by-side with amazing women and men who have embarked and succeeded on what was said to be an impossible task – a comprehensive reproductive health law.

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With women who have been fighting for RH rights for many years

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My legal team who burned the midnight candle with me

Legislative Agenda for 2014

On the first Saturday of the year, my amazing Senate legal team indulged me and let me buy them a cup of coffee each in exchange for working on a weekend. I wanted to take stock of where we were so we could start our year strong. It happened to be the birthday of my daughter Max and my youngest brother Lino, and thus I was also under time constraints to release my staff as soon as possible so we could all go about our weekend activities.

PIC Lawyers

 

We did our annual review of our legislative agenda – some of the Senate bills and resolutions we had previously filed, heard in committee hearings, and defended on the floor, like the tobacco graphic warning bill. Others were new bills which needed to be drafted, fine-tuned, and filed.

So this is what we are looking at this year:

- I filed a Resolution calling for a review of the implementation of the sin tax law, specifically the allocation of funds for health projects and the support of farmers. I’ve spoken to Senator Sonny Angara and he will hear the resolution I filed soon. For a backgrounder on my call to review the Sin Tax Law, please check out this news story from Rappler.com.

- I filed a Resolution calling for the review of all laws that may be discriminatory to women, as mandated by the Magna Carta of Women. This is scheduled to be heard soon.

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As posted on my Instagram and Facebook:
Modification: With a little help, I can keep house, raise kids, climb mountains and save the world

Art by David Hayward from http://www.patheos.com/blogs/nakedpastor/2013/04/women-leaders-we-apparently-need-to-avoid/

Art by David Hayward from http://www.patheos.com/blogs/nakedpastor/2013/04/women-leaders-we-apparently-need-to-avoid/

- Graphic Health Warning Bill: This bill requires all tobacco product packaging to have graphics or images depicting the dangers of smoking. We already held the hearing last week, January 22, 2014. I was pleasantly shocked to hear  the four tobacco companies express support for the measure, very unlike the first hearing I held some six years ago.

graphic warning

This news story from the Philippine Daily Inquirer provides the highlights of the hearing we conducted on the Graphic Health Warning Bill.

- Firecracker bill:  We need to review our existing laws and practices and  identify once and for all what practices are acceptable and not. I for one,  prefer to limit firework display to LGUs and those they accredit.

firecracker

- Student Athlete’s Rights Bill: This is a product of the recent issue involving the UAAP 2-year residency rule.  Last year, I initiated an online petition to revoke the UAAP’s 2 year residency rule. But since the UAAP turned a deaf ear,   I am filing a  bill aims to recognize the rights of a student to participate in competitive sports and pursue an academic degree free of undue pressure or restriction of their basic rights.

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With UP rookie swimmer Mikee Bartolome and her father, Vic Bartolome, holding up their petition to take the UAAP residency rule to court

UP rookie swimmer Mikee Bartolome went to court to fight for her right to study and swim for the school of her choice. The court upheld that right. Here are links to some related articles recounting the struggle to overcome the UAAP’s two-year residency rule:

Revise the new UAAP residency rule,’ online petition of Sen. Pia S. Cayetano on Change.org

Sen. Pia Cayetano decries high school residency rule,’ by Job de Leon, GMA News Online, April 1, 2013

All she wants is to swim for UP,’ by Josiah Israel Albelda, Rappler.com, August 30, 2013

Court grants TRO for UP swimmer, orders UAAP not to impose 2-year rule,’ by Yahoo! PH Sports, September 3, 2013

Bartolome wins gold but boycotts mar UAAP swimming,’ by Rappler.com, September 21, 2013

 

- Rare Diseases Bill: This bill aims to ensure that each patient diagnosed with a rare disease will have access to timely information and adequate medical care, through a sustainable health care system, the proposed Rare Disease Registry, and integrated educational and informational campaigns.

- Sustainable Transportation bill. I re-filed this bill for the 16th Congress. I am hoping that the committee will hear this soon. For a quick background on the Sustainable Transportation Bill, please read this article from the Philippine Daily Inquirer.

- Philippine National High School for Sports. This will create a system that will centralize the sports program in the high school level to develop student-athletes to maximize their talents and skills and prepare them for international competitions and a possible career as a sports practitioner.

- Scholarship and various grants in aid/financial assistants to students.  We already had an initial hearing, the outcome of which is the Unified Student Financial Assistance System for Higher and Technical Education Act. This shall harmonize existing national government programs for scholarships, grants-in-aid, loans for higher and technical education, and such other mechanisms to access educational opportunities.

- HIV/AIDS. This bill aims to address the gaps in Republic Act 8504 or the Philippine AIDS Prevention and Control Act of 1998, in order for the government to respond more efficiently to the rising number of reported cases of HIV/AIDS in the Philippines.

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At an HIV/AIDS awareness photo exhibit in the Senate with fellow advocates, DOH Assistant Secretary Eric Tayag and photographer Niccolo Cosme.

- Amendment to Art. 36 of the Family Code on annulment of marriage based on psychological incapacity. A review of the said provision is necessary because of perceived gaps and ambiguities in determining psychological incapacity.

- Inclusive Education Bill. The main objective of the bill is to provide Children and Youth with Special Needs (CYSN) with access to basic education within the general education stream so that they may equally access programs and services given to typically developing learners.

Meanwhile I continue to sit on the board of the State Universities and Colleges and hope to improve the state of our tertiary education through policy on the board levels of each institution but also through legislation where necessary.

I will also be busy working on  legislation and policy to address the power crisis that continues to hound us.  This will require reviewing the  EPIRA law, which introduced competition in the electric power industry via privatization and the creation of a spot market.

We will also have our hands full reviewing the Bangsamoro law, a product of the signing of the peace agreement between the MILF and government.

On the international front, I will continue to participate in the Inter-Parliamentary Union conferences and other events that will bring about better cooperation among nations, where we can learn from best practices and also share our experiences. I will also be keenly observing developments in the Philippine West Pacific Seas otherwise knowns as South China Seas and events within our region.

Finally, we continue to review the bills we have filed and those referred to the committees I chair and make adjustments as necessary. From experience, there are always unexpected issues that come up that need to be addressed. But as always, my team and I try to meet our self-imposed deadlines, to the extent possible.

With that, I wish everyone a happy, blessed, and productive new year. But since this has been sitting on my drafts folder for almost a month, I think it is more appropriate to wish everyone a Happy Chinese New Year! Gong Xi Fa Cai!

Breast Milk Bank: A first in the Visayas

On Friday, I launched a breast milk bank at the Vicente Sotto Memorial Medical Center – the first of its kind in the Visayas. This is in connection with my advocacy to promote breastfeeding, and is also consistent with the mandate of RA 10028 or the Expanded Breastfeeding Act, which I sponsored.

Six years ago, I spoke at the launch of the Lactation Unit and Human Milk Bank at the Philippine General Hospital. A year later, I led the launch of the country’s first community milk bank in Makati City, where the collected milk was transferred to Dr. Jose Fabella Memorial. Thereafter, we’ve sponsored several community  breastmilk-letting activities, not only to help the Fabella Hospital and PGH milk banks, but also to promote breastfeeding among Filipino mothers.

This event served as an opportunity to meet and share ideas with health workers and pregnant moms. I reiterated the need to promote breastfeeding and to start immediately after birth. Not only is breast milk best for babies, it is also the most affordable way to feed an infant.

Listening

The breast milk bank will provide precious breast milk for babies who do not have access to their mother’s milk. The VSMMC will run the facility where nursing mothers can donate their milk and have it stored in the bank for other babies in need.

 

When the hospital administrator and medical staff lamented the lack of space in the maternity ward, I proposed putting up a separate birthing center to decongest the main hospital. I was happy to hear that there were already such plans. The idea is to provide a separate place for mothers who are expecting normal deliveries without complications. This birthing center will be manned by trained midwives and supervised by the doctors. The tertiary hospital and the specialists can then focus on the deliveries with complications, which is really their mandate and where their expertise can best be put to use.

 

After the discussion, we visited the maternity ward. At present, it’s a 4:1 ratio of mothers with their babies to a bed. Can you imagine that? I’ve been here and to many other maternity wards before. The scenarios are almost always identical – overcrowded. I think the pictures below say it all.

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Despite this situation, many mothers seemed relatively happy. Most of them were doing well and starting to breastfeed. I shared some personal advice about breastfeeding, just some tips and tricks that worked for me.

tips

 

Talking to moms

What broke my heart was seeing so many teen moms. I looked into the eyes of these children having children of their own. Every single one I spoke to had not finished grade school. I don’t know what kind of future they will have. I tried to talk to as many of them as I could, encouraging them to go back to school so they can provide a better future for their child. I talked to them about planning their family and not getting pregnant again any time soon in order to take better care of their baby and also prepare for their future. They just nodded in response, with blank looks on their faces.

teen moms

I have to admit I left with a heavy heart. RA 10354 or the Reproductive Health Law is meant to address issues such as teen pregnancies. And yet, many still do not understand, or else they refuse to see, that without information, so many of our youth will continue to get pregnant before they become adults, some even before they finish grade school.

[Learn more about teen pregnancies in the Philippines: (1) (2) (3)]

 

Another problem that still persists is our high maternal mortality rate – that is, mothers dying due to childbirth-related complications. Again, the Reproductive Health Law seeks to address this by providing support for family planning and the needs of pregnant women.

[Learn more about the Philippines' maternal mortality rate: (1) (2) (3)]

 

Despite the setbacks in the implementation of the law, I am hopeful that with each small step that we take, such as the establishment of the breast milk bank and eventually the new birthing center, we will slowly address these problems. It is just disappointing that our progress is delayed, and as we await the Supreme Court hearing, mothers and newborns will continue to die, and teenagers will continue to get pregnant with little hope for a brighter future.

UAAP residency rule: A huge setback

 

This is my blog in reaction to the UAAP Board’s ruling that upholds their two-year residency rule, as published by Rappler.com.

Rappler UAAP ruling

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This photo was taken during the Senate hearing, as I spoke to Mr. Jerry Pingoy and Mr. Vic. Bartolome, parents of UAAP student-athletes who are affected by the new UAAP rule.

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Speak up and sign this petition for the UAAP Board to revoke the unjust and unfair ruling.

 

Open Letter to the UAAP Board from a Former UAAP Athlete, a Mom of Athletes, and a Sports Advocate

I was 15 when I entered the University of the Philippines as a college freshman. Everything was strange and new to me.  I hardly knew anyone. But one thing I did know is that I wanted to play volleyball. I was a passionate albeit unskilled high school volleyball player who dreamt of playing serious volleyball. I thought I was good, but when I saw the UP team play, I knew I was out of my league. I tried out for team. The first day alone almost made me quit.  I was simply in awe of the skill, endurance, and dedication of the team. I thought I would never reach their playing level. I felt like I was watching goddesses play.

 

The level of playing was nothing like I had experienced in high school. To be accepted in the team and eventually play in the UAAP is something I will forever be proud. I trained hard. In my second year, I was invited to try-out for the national team . That same year, my UP team won the UAAP Volleyball championship. I started training both with the Philippine team and my UP team in my third year. And  at the age of 17, I competed in my first international competition as a member of the Philippine team.

 

Me and my UP teammates

Fourth from left, Me and my UP teammates

Fast forward to today , I am still an athlete – no longer a volleyball player, but a triathlete. I swim, I bike, I run. I am a competitive age-grouper. I join international competitions and still proudly represent my country.

 

Tri United

Tri United

Just last week, I won  for the second time, a slot to the Xterra World Championships in Maui, the off-road triathlon championships.

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Xterra  2013

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I am also a proud mother of two female athletes who both play football, one in high school and one in college. The sport and the college they go to is their choice. I simply provide the encouragement, support, and motherly advice they need from time to time.

 

Max and her UP Teammates

Max and her UP Teammates

Nads and her Makati Football Club teammates at Gothia

Nads and her Makati Football Club teammates at the Gothia cup in Sweden

 

It is with much heartache that I came across the recent decision of the UAAP board about the residency requirements. Below is my open letter to the board.

 

Dear UAAP Board,

 

Many athletes, former athletes, and parents of athletes are in an uproar over the recent decision of the UAAP board to require graduating high school students to sit out 2 years if they come from a UAAP high school and go to a different UAAP college.

 

Forgive my ignorance, but what is the 2-year residency requirement for other than to curtail the freedom of the young athlete to choose the college where he wants to study and play?

 

In the USA, transferring college athletes have a 1-year residency rest before they can play for their new school – only 1 year, and it doesn’t apply to high school students who choose to go to a different college. The 1-year residency rule requires an athlete to sit out one year of competition because transferring student-athletes suffer academically over time. The year-in-residence is meant to help the athlete acclimatize to the new school and adjust academics-wise. [1] So what’s your 2-year rule for?

 

A student-athlete’s choice of university is influenced not only by athletics, but also by academics, campus life, and personal situation [2], and the 2-year residency encumbers their freedom of choice.

 

In my humble opinion as an athlete, a parent of both a college and a high school athlete, and a lawyer, the 2-year residency that is currently applied to transferring college students, as well as any residency rule for high school students, deny athletes of their rights to develop their full potential. It goes against the Constitutional mandate to promote sports especially among our youth, and is an unreasonable limit on an athlete’s freedom of choice as well as academic freedom to choose which college to enter into.

 

Section 19, Article 14, of the 1987 Constitution states that:

 

“(1) The State shall promote physical education and encourage sports programs, league competitions, and amateur sports, including training for international competitions, to foster self-discipline, teamwork, and excellence for the development of a healthy and alert citizenry.”

 

Will the new rule help achieve this?

 

To excel in sports, one needs to be in constant training of both the body and the mind. Do you know what it’s like for an athlete to sit out two seasons? Athletes thrive on competition. That’s what gets us going. That’s what all the hard training is about. Its what makes it all worth while. To make an athlete sit out two seasons? That just kills the dream. Para sa isang atleta, para mo na ring sinabi na wag ka na lang maglaro. Is this what you want to achieve? Seriously?

I am against any kind of residency rule for graduating high school students. For transferring college students, the 1 year residency rule will suffice. Anything more than that is injustice to an athlete.

I will end this letter by citing a provision in our Bill of Rights against cruel and unjust punishment. For an athlete, this 2 year residency rule is cruel and unjust punishment!

 

 

1http://www.ncaa.org/wps/wcm/connect/public/NCAA/Resources/Latest+News/2012/May/Get+the+facts+about+transfers

2 ibid.

 

Public Engagement 2.0

When I first ran in 2004, I didn’t have a Facebook account, I didn’t have a Twitter account, nor Instagram or a blog. I campaigned the traditional way – speaking at rallies, attending various caucuses and meetings with various groups.

In 2010, I ran for re-election.  By then I had a Facebook and a Twitter account but my Facebook was private and there really weren’t too many Filipinos on Twitter yet.

Links to my online accounts: Twitter, Facebook, instagramBlog, Website

This year is another election year. I am not a candidate but in the last few years, I have been very active on social media. I tweet daily, I  share pictures on instagram and I still blog, although not as much as I would like given that I haven’t had much time the last year, mostly due to the debates on the RH bill. I also have an official website and Facebook account.

 

My participation on Twitter has given me much more direct contact with my nationwide constituents. I regularly get feedback on pending legislation and national issues. Most of the time, I get the news online too.

 

Late last year, I  met the executives of Google and we came up with the idea of sponsoring a forum where we could discuss the benefits to politicians of reaching more of their constituents online. After much planning, the event “Public Engagement 2.0” was launched.

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We invited the members of Congress, both from the Senate and the House of Representatives to come and hear from the experts. Staff of senators and congressmen as well as campaign managers attended the event to learn more about how to maximize digital connectivity in order to reach more constituents. As pointed out by Narciso Reyes, the country manager of Google Philippines, “We want to help our public servants learn how to reach the Filipino people through the Internet by understanding the digital landscape in the Philippines and the online behavior of Filipinos.” He adds that the better way to engage with Pinoys about issues is to meet them online, given that Filipinos are techonologically savvy and  there are already 33 million Filipinos online. That’s easily 1/3 of our population.

 

I did a Google hang-out demo with Pinoys in the US  to illustrate how politicians can communicate and engage their constituents from various places. This was first used by President Obama of the United States, later used by Julia Gillard, Prime Minister of Australia and others.

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Given that we are a country with over 7000 islands, its physically impossible for a candidate to visit every province, city or municipality. But with the use of social media tools, we can interact better. And as access to the internet increases, reach even more of our constituents.

Meanwhile, I will be busy with my advocacy work that involves health issues like maternal health and reproductive health, as well as campaigning for my brother Senator Alan Peter Cayetano  … please like his fb page :)

and of course a few other candidates I believe in…

I will be going around the country on some days. Wherever I am,  you will hear from me on-line.

 

 

 

****Related article: Inquirer

To the Filipino Youth: Don’t throw away your chance at an Education

To the Filipino youth:

Please do not throw away your chance at an education.

The Declaration of the Rights of the Child adopted by the United Nations guarantees the right to an education. And yet across the world, million of young people will never leave a life of poverty due to the lack of  education. In some countries, young girls are banned from getting an education.

Recently, Malala Yousafzai, a fifteen year old Pakistani girl stood up to the Taliban and demanded that she gets an education. For that valiant stand, this child was shot in the head by the Taliban.  The bullet grazed her brain but she survived and was in and out of consciousness for days. Today she is still in a hospital recovering.

I AM MALALA- is the global chorus being chanted all over the world, in support of 15 year old Malala’s fight to get an education.

Gordon Brown, former Prime Minister  of Great Britain and now United Nations Special Envoy on Global Education in a report by CNN states :

Fifteen million children under 14 who should be at school are working full time around the world. Every year, ten million girls leave education to become child brides and never return to school. Millions more are trafficked. And the UNESCO report will highlight the shameful neglect of 28 million refugee girls and boys, displaced children living in the camp tents and shacks of broken down regimes and conflict zones with no teachers or schoolbooks.

Early this week I was in London to attend a conference on Gender and Politics for Parliamentarians in the Houses of Parliaments.  When the plight of Malala was taken up, the  members of Parliament  responded and agreed to support Malala’s campaign.

Malala’s fight should not be in vain.

Your education is your future. Don’t throw it away.

Articles on Malala:

http://edition.cnn.com/2012/10/25/world/europe/uk-pakistan-teen-activist/index.html

http://uk.news.yahoo.com/malala-yousafzai–girls-who-risk-their-lives-defying-the-taliban-24102012.html

IPU Conference on Gender and Politics: At the Houses of Parliament in London

Across the world, women continue their struggle to be heard. The Inter-Parliamentary Union (IPU)’s Annual Report  on Women in Politics 2012 states that the world average percentage for women in national parliaments is 19.7%, with the Nordic countries having the highest average at 42% and the lowest being in the Arab States.

 

As the largest and oldest organization of members of parliament,  one of  the  IPU’s  objectives is to support the increase of women in politics. Towards this end, the conference on Gender and Politics was organized by the British Group Inter-Parliamentary Union and the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association UK.  I was invited to be a speaker at the  said conference  which was held in the Houses of Parliament in London.

Our panel included three other women parliamentarians. We were all asked to speak of our experiences as a legislator- how we got elected; what were the obstacles; the challenges we face in parliament; the milestones we have achieved; and the advice we would give other women.

I started with the catalytic event in my life that carved out my path in politics – the death of my father. I pointed out that around the world, many women enter politics because of affinity or consanguinity. And even though the Philippines has seen two female Presidents and is very accepting of women in politics, women remain a minority in politics.

I shared my view that it is still difficult for women to enter politics because of our existing social structures. Women are the primary home makers and politics is seen as a man’s world.  For a woman to cross-over, she needs the support of her family and partner. That’s why you will see that many women who do enter politics are wives, daughters, or sisters of politicians.

Also important is the support of cause-oriented groups, NGOs and business groups.  These are usually groups who share your vision and views and can support you by giving you a venue to speak or even actively support your campaign. Later on, once a woman is elected, this same group will be valuable allies in legislation advocating your common interest.

 

I ended my speech with advice for women in politics. I highlighted the fact that women must educate themselves on women’s issues. It  is true that  as women, we are innately aware of certain issues that affect us. But we need to understand these issues in depth.  We still come from different backgrounds.  Some women may have a strong awareness on  the issue of violence, others on women’s health or poverty.   Many  come from a privileged background and although educated, may lack awareness on the problems faced by women living in poverty. Thus, the need to be grounded and  to understand the needs of  women with different economic and social backgrounds.

 

The other panelists gave very moving speeches. I have heard testimonials of women parliamentarians. They always touch my heart. The parliamentarian from Afghanistan spoke of how her brother and husband disowned her, how she had to fight on her own to run for parliament and how she was doing this to give women a voice.

Many women delegates interjected to make a comment or ask a question. They also shared their struggles on the road to parliament and as a parliamentarian– how they were ridiculed for running; how they were considered  crazy for taking on a “man’s job”; how they were expected to fail; and how they overcame.

I was approached by a number of delegates after the session telling me that my story inspired them. But the truth is, it’s their stories that inspire me.