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Walking Down Taguig Memory Lane

The old man slowly but steadily made his way to the front of the room where I was standing. I had just finished addressing a group of some one hundred people who were gathered to celebrate the 30th Anniversary of Presidential Proclamation No. 2476.

His eyes were shining as he came up to me and held up a piece of paper that had yellowed with age. It was a typewritten letter informing him that the land on which his house stood was now his by law. At the bottom of the letter was a signature I recognized even as a child. It was my father’s signature.


All these years, he held on to that letter. Just like the woman who showed me a faded photo of her with my dad. And another who brought with her a vest with my father’s name on it – vestiges of a campaign some three decades ago.




It was in the early ’80s when my Dad, the late Senator Rene L. Cayetano promised the people of Taguig that the land they lived on would be theirs.

On January 7, 1986, 30 years ago, it became a reality when Presidential Proclamation No. 2476 was signed. This proclamation, which Dad had been working on for a long time, excluded Barangays Lower Bicutan, Upper Bicutan, Wester Bicutan, and Signal Village from the Military Reservation established in Taguig (now known as Fort Andres Bonifacio).


So today, we remembered and commemorated that day with the original beneficiaries, their children and grandchildren. It was a joyous occasion, but it wasn’t easy to hold back tears.


Day of the Girl

All over the world, we just celebrated the #DayoftheGirl.

At 15, I was a UP Maroon. I was studying Economics and playing for the UP Women’s Volleyball Team. At 17, I played for the Philippine National Volleyball team.


At 25, I became a lawyer, and at 28, I was a mom. Today, I have two girls of my own, and my advocacy is to help other girls fulfill their dreams through sports and education.

Max Nads

Pinat in action

What were your dreams when you were 15? What are the dreams of young girls now and how do we help them reach it?

I had the pleasure of joining a Plan International event, where I was impressed and inspired by these young girls. I asked each girl what she wanted to be, and among the different dreams they had were to be a teacher, a surgeon, a social worker, and president!

Plan Intl

Helping girls achieve their dreams is an investment worth making, because when girls do better, we all do better.[1] The #DayoftheGirl is about telling girls all over the world that their voices, dreams, and lives are important. On this day, we are thinking of what we can do for our girls. But beyond this day and at the core of this movement, we are fighting for what our girls can do for the world.



Remembering Senator Joker Arroyo


I am deeply saddened by the passing of former Senator Joker Arroyo. More than a colleague, he was a mentor to me for nine years, and my seatmate for three years in the 15th Congress (2010-2013). I looked up to him for his wisdom as a seasoned lawyer and legislator, who always spoke with eloquence and humor. On the side, he would share his observations and political analysis of events with me, reminding me to always observe people and events closely to get a better understanding of a political issue.

And for those who didn’t know him, he truly lived up to his name. He would often make jokes about us, his colleagues, and was one of the few who could get away with his catty, on-the-spot remarks directed at his colleagues.


When I entered the session hall today, I could almost feel his presence. His contributions to the richness of Philippine legislation will be carried in the journals and records of Congress, and will influence policies for future generations.

I was privileged to know him and to learn from one of the best. I will treasure his friendship and memory forever.


On his last day in the Senate (June 2013)

Iskolars ng Bayan, football, and teddy bears

My Team PIA – Pinay in Action – and the UP Women’s Football Team travelled to beautiful Baguio and to a small village called Lusod in the mountains, where the UP WFT shared their love for football and brought smiles to hundreds of faces.

On Friday, we held a football camp in Baguio for orphaned, abandoned, and underprivileged children of Bethesda Children Center. For most of the kids, it was their first time to play around with a football. And to simply hear their laughter and shouts of delight while kicking the ball around was in itself priceless.


The next day I brought the team to my favorite hang-out high up in the mountains. It’s a little village in Benguet that you can only reach by foot after a 2-hour+ hike.

I’ll leave it up to the girls to share their thoughts about the trip, but for me, I know they brought the villagers and the kids so much joy.


The mountain is not an easy climb. After crossing a picturesque albeit scary hanging bridge that leads to a small village, it’s all up, up, up.


You can whine as much as you want but the journey doesn’t get easier. Having done the climb a number of times, I just put one foot in front of the other, and trust that the end will come eventually.


And it does after about 2+ hours.

The villagers welcomed us warmly with a song and dance number by the kids. Energized by the biko and the barako coffee that was served, the girls were soon singing along and dancing with the kids.

Then they brought out their footballs and started teaching the kids some basic football drills.

Afterwards, they presented the kids with their gifts – stuff they lugged with them throughout the entire trek up – huge stuffed toys, notebooks, books, clothes and food.


We were then treated to the local fare – delicious mountain red rice, wild pig and truffle mushrooms! And then it was time for the trek back. I hate leaving this place. I will miss everything about it – the smell of pine trees, the river rushing below us as we cross the hanging bridge, the air getting colder as you climb higher, being so close to clouds. ‘Til the next climb.

Thank you to the UP Women’s Football Team and Coach Anto for sharing your time and skills with the kids of Benguet.


SONA 2004-2015

My very first SONA as a newly elected Senator was in 2004.


Four Congresses, two Presidents, and eleven years later, I look back with pride at the work that I have done over my term as a Senator. These are my babies – the laws that I laboured on to defend and enact.

Reproductive Health Law (RA 10354)
Sin Tax Reform Act (RA 10351)
National Health Insurance Act (RA 10606)
Graphic Health Warning Law (RA 10643)
Mandatory Infants and Children Health Immunization Act (RA 10152)
Philippine National Health Research System Act (RA 10532)
Food and Drugs Administration Act (RA 9711)
Universally Accessible Cheaper and Quality Medicines Act (RA 9502)
National Anti-Rabies Act (RA 9482)

Women & Children
Expanded Breastfeeding Promotion Act (RA 10028)
Magna Carta of Women (RA 9710)
Foster Care Act (RA 10165)
National Children’s Month (RA 10661)
National Consciousness Day for Elimination of Violence Against Women & Children (RA 10398)
Amendments to Family Code and Revised Penal Code

Ladderized Education Act (RA 10647)
Open Distance Learning Act (RA 10650)
Open High School System Act (RA 10665)
Iskolar ng Bayan Act (RA 10648)

Renewable Energy Act (RA 9513)
Environmental Awareness and Education Act (RA 9512)
Oil Pollution Compensation Act (RA 9483)
Laws declaring Protected Areas

Marginalized Sector
Establishment of Persons with Disability Affairs Office Act (RA 10070)
Expanded Senior Citizens Act (RA 9994)

This afternoon, I attend my last SONA as I graduate from the Senate next year.


These are some of the measures on my legislative agenda for the third and final regular session of this Congress:

Unifast Bill – for bicam ratification
Anti-Age Discrimination Bill – in the period of committee amendments
Sustainable Transportation Bill – for Committee Report
Children’s Emergency Relief & Protection – for Committee Report
School Nutrition Program – for Committee Report
Expanded Maternity Leave – for Committee Report
Amendments to HIV law – for Committee Report
Inclusive Education Bill – for Committee Report
Rare Disease Bill – for Committee Report
Marital Infidelity Law – for Committee Report

Meanwhile, I continue to pursue my advocacy work – women and children, health, education, culture and heritage, and sports and fitness – some parts of which started even before I became a senator.

With less than a year left in my term, it will be a challenge managing my time to get all this done. But I am an endurance athlete: I have trained myself to set my eyes on the goal and I am up for the challenge.

And these are the amazing people from Room 505 who make my work possible:


Gabriel’s Symphony meets Medieval Florence

In the heart of medieval Florence is the Casa di Dante, home of Dante Alighieri, the famous writer, poet and politician who lived in the 13th century.

Casa di Dante

Casa di Dante

This is where AILO, an international organization of women in Florence, Italy held a benefit concert for Gabriel’s Symphony, my foundation in memory of my son Gabriel, dedicated to disadvantaged children.

He died before he turned one. For a mother, you never get over the pain of losing your child. But I’ve learned to embrace that pain because over the years, I have seen all the good things that have come out of my son’s short life. We have been able to help kids who have cleft lip like him, and who are blind or deaf like he was. Unlike Gabriel, their conditions are not life threatening, but due to poverty, these children continue to suffer.

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My son, Gabriel

Friends based in Italy but coming from different parts of the world attended the benefit and filled the Casa di Dante to enjoy a night of music – Italian, Filipino, and English.

Fundraising events like these go a long way in our pursuit to give children a better life. My heartfelt thanks to my dearest friend Lolita Valderrama Savage and the wonderful women of AILO who organized this event and made it happen.

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With the women of AILO, Ambassador Ding Nolasco, and Hon. Consul Dr. Fabio Fanfani

Our performers that evening did a splendid job.

With the performers, Sanny Marmida, Maestro Gianni Fabbrini of Italy, Camille Cabalterra, and Dianne Bailey of Australia. At the far right is my good friend and renowned Filipina global artist, Lolita Savage.

Group photo with the performers (L-R): Sanny Marmida, Maestro Gianni Fabbrini of Italy, Camille Cabalterra, and Dianne Bailey of Australia. At the far right is my good friend and renowned Filipina global artist, Lolita Savage.

And a special thanks to the Filipino community who came out that evening in full support, including Ambassador Ding Nolasco and our Honorary Consul Doctor Fabio Fanfani.

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With the Knights of Rizal and Ambassador Ding Nolasco

Wherever we are in the world, it feels good to know that we can do something to make a difference in the lives of others.

A day with the Women Movers of Nestlé

What an honor to join Nestlé for the awarding of their Women Movers of 2015. These are women throughout Nestle’s offices all over the Philippines who have excelled and rendered invaluable service to the company.


For the second year, Nestlé recognized women members of their workforce who have excelled and rendered invaluable service.


Women throughout the corporate ladder were recognized. Take Lyn Español, who shared her experiences as the first and only female Industrial Services Operator in their Cabuyao plant. She manages the plant’s power supply, and simply put, if she doesn’t do her job well, “magkaka-brown out ang buong Cabuyao plant.”




Women Mover Lyn Español is the first and so far the only female Industrial Services Operator at the Nestlé Cabuyao plant.


To the Women Movers who are an indispensable part of the Nestlé workforce, and to all other women out there who silently do their jobs, while juggling family responsibilities and inspiring everyone around them, congratulations and keep inspiring!


I was invited to give an inspirational talk to the Women Movers of Nestlé. Their stories ended up inspiring me as well.



Farewell, seatmate

Last October 30, I lost a mentor. My former seatmate, mentor, and friend Senator Flavier passed away. I paid my respects, and for the last time, looked upon his smiling face.

You always made me smile. So this one's for you... for once, you are taller than me.

You always made me smile. So this one’s for you… for once, you are taller than me.

Today, we had the necrological service for the late Senator Flavier in the Senate.


With Senate President Drilon, we welcome the ashes of the late Sen. Juan Flavier at the Senate necrological services

At the necrological services, listening to my colleagues deliver their eulogy was very touching. Everyone recounted how wonderful a person Tito Johnny was. Despite the solemnity of the occasion, we erupted into laughter at anecdotes that were so classic Flavier.

This is the eulogy I delivered.

Delivering my eulogy and saying farewell to my friend and seatmate.

Delivering my eulogy and saying farewell to my friend and seatmate.

My story starts in 2004 when I began my term as a senator. I sat in front as I still do now between the Majority Floor Leader and Senate President Pro Tempore. The SP Pro Tempore then was the honorable Sen. Juan Flavier, but our families’ friendship goes back to when dad and Sen. Flavier, “Tito Johnny” to me, became colleagues in the senate. In fact they both served in the Ramos administration. Senator Flavier was secretary of health, while my dad was the chief presidential legal counsel.

Back then I was a private citizen, a young lawyer who already idolized this amazingly charismatic health secretary who was taking on health campaigns, that little did I know would be my very campaigns as well.

In my blog which I wrote when he retired from the senate, I said, “My seatmate is never absent nor late. He is always the first one there. When I arrive, he always greets me with a warm smile. And in return, I give him a kiss on the cheek.

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Then I sit down and he says, ‘How are you young lady?’ And so there I was a new senator, in need of fatherly guidance and affection. I would pour out my daily woes. He patiently nodded and listened.” I guess Senator Miriam, Senator Loren and I have the same experience in that sense.

He was a father to me. But as a legislator, we complemented each other. We shared a common passion for healthcare. He was the teacher and I was the student. I had dreams and aspirations; he had wisdom and experience. I had a passion for healthcare. He had the medical degree and expertise.


At the start of the 13th Congress, I asked him if he would continue to chair the Committee on Health, he said, “It’s your turn. I will support you.”

With the former secretary of health at my side, I faced the challenges with a positive outlook. I sponsored my first bill on the expanded vaccination program. I discussed breastfeeding at length with him.

We talked about lobby groups and how, at times, they managed to block or delay key legislation. On many occasions, I would turn to him in frustration. I told him it was difficult working with some NGOs and professional groups because they wanted me, expected me, to carry their cause without taking into consideration other views, which I could not do.

His advice was simple. He said, “Hayaan mo silang kumisay!”

You had to know him to understand what he meant. He could say this because he had earned people’s respect. He could say this because people knew he didn’t mean it in an insulting way. It was just his way of putting his foot down with a bit of humor mixed in.

In my blog, I wrote, sometimes being in the senate was like being in school. We have a school bell that rings and tells us it’s time to come in. Having been one of only four women senators in 2004, it was common for me to be the subject of my male colleagues’ jokes and friendly ribbing. Senator Flavier was my defender. This man, small in stature, was my protector, just as he was the protector of millions of Filipinos.

On the senate floor, he tempered my dreams and aspirations with his wisdom and experience. I was impatient; he knew there was a time for everything.

His patience paid off. Two decades after his ‘Yosi Kadiri’ campaign, after I sponsored and defended the Tobacco Graphic Health Warning bill in three congresses, throughout 2007 and 2014, with the help of our Senate President Frank Drilon, it became a law.

The same can be said for the Reproductive Health (RH) Law. He was a strong advocate of family planning when he was President Ramos’ secretary of health. After conducting my first hearing and a series of consultations on RH at the start of my term in the 13th Congress, I asked for his advice on how to proceed. I had my doubts if the timing was right because aside from the resistance of some sectors, then President GMA was vocal about her opposition.

His advice to me: Watch and observe. “See if it makes progress in the Lower House. Take it from there.” It was the advice I needed to hear at that time.

Two congresses later, its time had come. We had a new President who was pro-RH. Both houses of Congress had outspoken members ready to champion its cause. NGOs and advocates and the advent of social media allowed more discussions and created a better understanding of the issues.

And although he was not in the Senate when two of these very hardly fought health bills – Tobacco Graphic Health Warning RH, and if I could include, also the amended Sin Tax Bill – were passed, he provided the foundation, and should forever be a part of the legislative history of these laws.


Sitting next to me, I knew what my seatmate was up to all the time. In between debates and administrative functions, he would be writing. Wondering what it was he was always writing, I asked. At times he would be making changes in his long and never-ending biography, but other times, he would be sending a personal handwritten response to all the letters he received.

If he was not sitting next to me, he was up on the podium as presiding officer. And although it has been seven years since he has been on the senate floor, I can still see him sitting there. At the end of session, he would say with much enthusiasm, “Session will resume at such and such time, at 3 pm, SHARP!” That was Sen. Flavier’s ending for every session day that he presided.

For the Filipino people, he was the charismatic doctor to the barrios, the energetic, fearless secretary and senator known for his “Let’s DOH it” attitude.

But as I wrote in my blog, I knew a little bit more of this man — that which completed him was his family. His beloved grandchildren who were but little kids then, may have surely ‘outgrown’ Mr. Bean. But from his stories and the joy in his eyes, I know that truly this was his most cherished position – a mere member of his grandchildren’s secret society – ‘Mr. Bean Watchers Club.’

His most cherished position - a member of his grandchildren's Mr. Bean Watchers Club.

His most cherished position – a member of his grandchildren’s Mr. Bean Watchers Club. With Kia, Pio, and Tita Susan

with gd

At the necrological service, I finally met the famous Kia, beloved granddaughter

Tita Susan, Jondi, Johnet, James and Joy, thank you for sharing this great man with us. He will be missed but never forgotten.


With his wife, Tita Susan

james flavier

At the necrological service with his son James, a spitting image of him

Related articles:

My Seatmate…Senator Flavier

Juan Flavier – Mr. Let’s DOH It, People’s Senator, quietly passes away

Well-loved jovial ‘giant’ Juan Flavier dies at 79

Global Vision: More Women in Parliament and Government Positions

Quotas as a means to increase women’s participation in politics.

This was the debate this morning at the Meeting of the Women Parliamentarians here at the 131st Assembly of the Inter-Parliamentary Union in Geneva.


For years, the IPU Committee on Women, of which I was Chair from 2008-2010, has been tracking the number of women in the parliaments all over the world. Worldwide, the average is 21.8%, still off the target of 30%.


When I took the floor, I pointed out that the Philippines has had two women presidents and have elected women to various positions in government. Despite that, Congress has yet to break the 30% barrier.

At present, the Senate has 6 women, which represents 25% of the Senate, while the House has 79 women out of 290 representatives, or 29% of the lower chamber.


I pointed out that with or without a quota requirement, a political system must ensure:
– political leaders accept and recognise the need for equal representation of men and women in political positions
– training programs, workshops, leadership seminars for young women
– support groups and training for women already in politics
– that we evaluate our portrayal of women in politics as seen through the eyes of children, i.e. how women are portrayed in text books and other media that are readily consumable by the youth. What is the role of women from the perspective of a student and young Filipino?

Those against quotas say women should win their seat fair and square, while others express concern that quotas don’t work without the corresponding programs that will allow women effective participation within political parties and in parliament.

To my mind, whether or not we adopt a quota system, these important steps must be taken to ensure an effective mechanism for increasing the number of women in parliament.

Women Gladiators

Running the Rome Marathon has always been on my bucket list. When I found out that the Inter-Parliamentary Union meeting that I regularly attend on behalf of the Philippine Senate was going to be held the week before Rome Marathon and on my birthday weekend, I knew that Rome was mine to take!

The Arch of Titus and the Coliseum

The Arch of Titus and the Coliseum

The day before I ran Rome Marathon, I did a short run to the Colosseum to take some pictures. While there, I contemplated on the life we have now vs. the lives of women then.

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I realized I may not look like a gladiator, and I don’t know if I would survive a battle to the death in the Colosseum during the Roman times, but I do know many women who are modern day gladiators. Among them are the women who took to the streets lobbying for their right to reproductive health.


In the Roman times, women picketed the houses of lawmakers to pressure them to repeal the Oppian law which they deemed oppressive in a time of prosperity. The said law sought to limit a woman’s possession of gold, wearing of dresses in different colors, or riding of a horse-drawn carriage within the city. Their efforts were successful and the law was successfully repealed (source:

It doesn’t seem like a cause we would fight for today, but I guess in the context of the times, these women were fighting for equal treatment.

And even as our country has been recognized as among the most gender equal nations in the world, we still have laws that are discriminatory against women. In this regard, as Chair of the  Senate Committee on Women, Family Relations, and Equality, I conducted hearings to review such discriminatory laws with the view of bridging the gender gap in our legislation. The first two subject matters in the following enumeration have gone through the committee and are already on the Senate floor, and we are currently drafting the Committee Report for the third law.

  1. There are many provisions in the Family Code where the decision should be lodged with both husband and wife. And yet, the Family Code gives the husband or father the final say in the following matters:

–       Administration of the spouses’ common property (Family Code, Arts. 96 and 124)

–       Exercise of parental authority over their common children (Family Code, Arts. 211 and 225)

–       Giving parental consent to the marriage of their child (Family Code, Art. 14)

These are discriminatory because the decision of the husband and wife, or father and mother, must be given the same weight in our laws, instead of holding one supreme over the other.

  1. Premature marriages make it a crime for a woman to marry within 301 days after the death of her husband, or before having delivered if she was pregnant at the time of his death. No such prohibition is placed on men. (Revised Penal Code, Art. 351)
  2. On marital infidelity, men and women are treated unequally. A married woman is made criminally liable for one count of adultery for each act of sexual intercourse with a man not her husband. Meanwhile, the law enumerates stringent conditions before a man can be held criminally liable for having sexual intercourse with a woman not his wife. (Revised Penal Code, Arts. 333 and 334)

In addition to these, the Committee will also be reviewing other laws with discriminatory provisions against women, including the Code of Muslim Personal Laws.

Women have come so far in fighting for and attaining equal rights under the law. Despite the progress we have made, it is important to remember that there was a time in our recent past where women did not get equal opportunities for education, to pursue a career, or to vote. It is a continuing struggle to achieve gender equality in every aspect of our lives, and getting our laws up to speed is a good place to start.

And my Rome Marathon? It was actually the slowest marathon I ever ran – thanks to my decision to run my first ultra marathon in Cebu two weeks prior – but it is one of the most memorable. It was like running back in time through many historic sites. Truly unforgettable.

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