MANILA, Philippines – March 8 was all about women, as the world celebrated International Women’s Day.
But instead of Senator Grace Poe – one of the 6 female senators in the 24-member Senate – joining women’s rights advocates during a forum and film showing at the Gateway Mall in Quezon City, it was her son Brian Poe-Llamanzares who came.
Men must also take an active part in pushing for women’s rights, he said.
“It’s not something that should be left to the women to do alone. I think that’s why I’m here – to speak for all the guys out there who would like to give their support for causes like this,” Llamanzares said.
Llamanzares was one of the speakers during the forum and screening of Girl Rising, a documentary that tells the story of how 9 girls from different parts of the world defied all odds to empower themselves. The event was organized by Spark! Samahan ng mga Pilipina para sa Reporma at Kaunlaran.
How did a young man like him get involved in such an advocacy?
Llamanzares was candid in admitting that women empowerment is first and foremost the advocacy of his mother, but a personal experience during his college years opened up his eyes to the stark reality of prostitution.
As part of his requirements as a student at the Ateneo de Manila University, Llamanzares had an immersion in a low-end bar to “observe” what goes on behind its walls.
Ateneo regularly holds immersion activities, where students are required to visit and stay for a few days in various communities.
Llamanzares saw a girl as young as 16 years old working at the bar.
“I felt terrible that she had to sit in the lap of some dirty old man. I remember when she stood up I asked her if she wants to sit at my table. She looked at me and there was a pause and I thought I had the chance to help her,” Llamanzares said.
“She looked back at the man who was staring at her with this fierce look and she frowned and she looked at me and she said, ‘Pasensiya na po, may customer na ako (Sorry, sir, I already have a customer.) And I felt terrible ’cause I couldn’t save her from that,” he said.
“What happened the rest of the night? The guy got drunk, took her to the back of the bar, they had 2 to 3 shots, and the girl grabbed a beer, and she looked at me, and she walked into the room, and I never saw her again,” he added.
As a brother, it was enough for Llamanzares to be convinced to speak out against the violation of women’s rights.
“I can’t explain how it felt to see that happen because I imagine that happening to my sister and I just couldn’t take it,” he said.
Although the Philippines is considered as the most gender equal country in Southeast Asia – and the 5th most gender equal country in the world – the country also recorded 7,409 rape cases or 20 rape cases a day in 2013.
“We appreciate that gender equality is so important. Because we need to make sure we fight for those rights to make sure it doesn’t happen to the people we love,” he said.
Llamanzares is a part of the the senatorial staff of his mother as a lead researcher.
During the 2013 mid-term elections, he served as the campaign manager of his mother.
Asked whether he has any plans of following in his mother’s footsteps, Llamanzares vehemently shook his head. None at all, he said. – Rappler.com