Risa Hontiveros: Senate win like RH bill passage – uphill but possible

An author of the reproductive health bill in the 14th Congress, she wants her candidacy to excite women and youth

MANILA, Philippines – She almost made it in 2010. This time around, she’s not taking any chances. 

Running under the administration ticket in the last senatorial election, former Akbayan party-list Rep Risa Hontiveros was 1,171,230 million votes away from clinching a Senate seat with a total of 9,106,112 votes, trailing political ally Teofisto Guingona III. 

She wasn’t expecting it, says the former journalist who has been an activist since her teenage years. She was, after all, still hovering around the 15th to 20th place in surveys before the 2010 elections. 

Surveys conducted by the Social Weather Stations (SWS) show that Hontiveros was ranked 24th to 27th place with 7% points in December 2009, 5 months before the May 2010 elections. She went on to climb to the 21st to 24th place with 12% points in January; moving further up in February to 18th to 20th place with 14% points; and dipping once again in March, placing 22nd to 24th with 11% points.

It was only in the SWS April 2010 survey, conducted a month before the elections, that Hontiveros climbed up to 16th to 18th place with 16% points. In the last survey one week before the elections, she went up to 14th to 15th place with 20% points — still below the Magic 12.

This time around, in two separate SWS surveys conducted in August and December, Hontiveros has been steady at the 18th place with 19% points and 21% points respectively. To overtake her 2010 finish, Hontiveros needs to rank better in the upcoming surveys leading to the 2013 elections. 

Hontiveros admitted she was at first depressed with the 2011 survey results but says she has a “better view” of her chances “using the comparative perspective” for two reasons.  

Tinawagan ko talaga yung mga kasama sa core group, alam ninyo wag kayong mahawa sa initial reaction ko, ‘wag kayong ma-de-depress kasi una, we still have almost half a year to fight this out. Pangalawa, at 18, I’m way above where I was in the same month in 2009. I may be down in the list but I’m definitely not out of contestation,” she says. 

Since losing in 2010, Hontiveros has been working hard to sustain public awareness about her, doing the rounds on pre-campaign preparations — from speaking at various events and gatherings, including fiestas, to becoming one of the faces of the controversial Reproductive Health Bill that eventually became a law recently.

Nag-umpisa kami nang mas maaga. Hunyo pa lang nasa pre-campaign mode na kami. Hanggang ngayon naghahanda kami na parang kalabaw, para mangampanya ulit na parang kalabaw. And then my team and I are trying to bring the message about my candidacy to an even wider group,” Hontiveros says.  

Hontiveros was included in the Liberal Party’s 2010 senatorial slate as a concession to her Akbayan party, which threw its support behind LP standard bearer Benigno Aquino III. While her bid lost, her fellow Akbayan members were appointed to government positions after the elections. The prominent appointees were former Akbayan president Loretta Ann Rosales (Commission on Human Rights chair), another former party president Joel Rocamora (National Anti-Poverty Commission chair), and Ronald Llamas (presidential adviser on political affairs).

Middle class activist 

Early on in her political career, not a few asked: What’s a mestiza doing representing marginalized farmers and fishermen? 

“The proof of the pudding is in the eating,” Hontiveros says, just as like how Akbayan’s track record would prove its credentials as a representative of the marginalized sector. Akbayan’s fitness for the party list was questioned the past months in attempts by another Leftist group to have it disqualified from the party list. The Comelec upheld Akbayan. 

“In 2010, I started ranked around 39th so talagang sobrang layo, di mo ‘ko makikita sa horizon sa likod pero ang isang ibig sabihin din non, majority of Filipinos who don’t consider themselves democratic left by any stretch of their imagination palagay ko tingin din nila, ah isa itong aktibista, isa itong legislator na seryoso at reasonable, marunong magtrabaho sa loob ng mga institusyon pero pushing the limits para gawing mas responsible,” she says. 

Activism has always been at the heart of the proudly “middle-class girl.” But her first love was theater. 

Back in second year high school, Hontiveros was a budding theater artist who starred in a Sound of Music production alongside Lea Salonga, Monique Wilson, and Raymond Lauchengo. But she was snatched away from theater by the call of activism. She was about to audition for South Pacific one summer when her mother brought her to a forum on a nuclear-free Philippines, which inspired her to form the Nuclear Disarmament Group. There was no turning back then, she says. 

Ngayon, pa-solidarity-solidarity night tapos pa-joke-joke sa mga kasama na bitawan ‘nyo na ‘ko sa pulitika, babalik na ako sa teatro at sinasabi ko nga na in real life, I’m really a back up singer of Noel Cabangon,” she says. 

The last play she watched was Bona, and she almost watched her favorite musical Phantom of the Opera in the course of its Manila run but chose not to after learning about the issues that OPM artists had against foreign acts. 

Family-inspired advocacy 

First listed in 2004 as Akbayan’s 3rd nominee, Hontiveros went on to serve as party-list representative for two terms until 2010. In her 6 years in Congress, Hontiveros was able to pass the Cheaper Medicines Law and the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program Extension with Reforms (CARPER) Law, among other bills.  

In 2005, Hontiveros became a widow when her husband, Frank Baraquel, succumbed to heart attack due to asthma. As a solo mom to four kids aged 10-20, she also wants to introduce a companion bill to the Solo Parents Act that will support the continuous professional and personal development of solo parents.

Lagi akong nagbibiro na nanay ako sa buong education system tapos feel na feel ko ang Philhealth, ‘yung drive para gawing universal coverage, feel na feel ko ang universal healthcare kasi pag nagkakasakit sila talagang pag outpatient lang, emergency room or lab, out of pocket expenses ko talaga. Pag nakoconfine sila, my God, I really appreciate the 30% or so reimbursement from Philhealth although it’s a quarter of a year later,” she says. 

Running on a platform of empowering women and the youth, Hontiveros says she will push for bills that she also filed in the House if she becomes a senator.

Among them are: 1) Gender balance bill – to increase women’s political participation; 2) Anti-prostitution bill – to shift the criminal liability from prostituted women to the those who profit from the industry and to provide them with alternative livelihoods and 3) Bibong Barangay Health Workers bill – to provide a training program for barangay health workers patterned after the University of the Philippines College of Medicine Program.  

Hontiveros has been most visible in the past year as an advocate for the Reproductive Health Bill, which is now awaiting the signature of the President, and even figured in a television advertisement in 2011. 

During the last stretch of the RH Bill debates in the House of Representatives, Hontiveros, a co-author of the measure in the 14th Congress, was among those who were in the plenary from the period of amendments up to the voting. 

Hontiveros is seeing parallelisms from the battle to enact the the RH Bill into a law with her current senatorial bid. 

In the same way that the RH Bill became an issue for ordinary citizens, her senatorial bid, Hontiveros says, proves how someone like her who does not come from a political family has a fighting chance for the Senate. 

Malaking inspirasyon yung imminent signing ng Reproductive Health Bill. Para din yung laban ko nung 2011 and what we anticipate ngayong laban ko ng 2013, ang hirap talaga. The odds we were against at the start. Dahil RH was and is a very felt issue for ordinary citizens and then yung candidacy ko rin tingin ko it will be at the least interesting at the most exciting for ordinary citizens,” she says.

Hontiveros, a woman, a mother, and an activist, does not run short on ideals but she is keeping it realistic if she still doesn’t make it in 2013. 

“Then I don’t. I’ll continue full-time work with Akbayan and the different social movements in various advocacies,” she says. 

But she and her fellow Akbayan members will still look forward to 2016, not for another try at an elective position but to continue to throw their support behind the Liberal Party and to ensure that the president who will succeed Aquino will continue his programs and reforms. –Rappler.com



Political affiliations: Liberal Party, Akbayan! Citizens Action Party

Age on Election Day: 46


  • Graduated from St. Scholastica’s College Manila – Grade School and High School
  • Took up AB Social Sciences and graduate cum laude from the Ateneo de Manila University
  • Completed a Diploma Course in Managing Arts at the Asian Institute of Management

Advocacies: human rights, gender and women’s rights, solo moms’ rights, agrarian reform, environment, good governance, youth, peace, health, labor and employment, reproductive health

Political/Professional Background: 

  • Broadcast Journalist for 10 years
  • Coalition for Peace (served as Secretary-General from 1988 to 1992)
  • Government Panel for Peace Talks with the National Democratic Front from 1998 to 2004
  • Amnesty International Pilipinas (member of the Board of Directors)
  • Institute for Politics and Governance
  • Akbayan party-list Represenative, 14th Congress 
  • Akbayan party-list Representative, 15th Congress
  • Currently chairperson of Akbayan 
  • Akbayan-Citizens Action Party (Chairperson)
Laws authored
  • Cheaper Medicines Law
  • Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program Extension with Reforms (CARPER) Law

Latest survey ranking: 18th, SWS Nov 29 – December 3 survey

*Source: Hontiveros’ official Facebook account, www.1000peacewomen.org

More from Rappler’s 2013 Philippine elections coverage:

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