At the end of a long day of engagements – with the Philippines’ top two government officials and leading activists – United States Vice President Kamala Harris spoke with young Filipina women in a town hall on November 21 about leadership – both on abstract terms and based on her own experience.
Asked for her advice on “how to sustain motivation and passion,” Harris singled out three Filipino women, including a former president who defeated the current president’s dictator father.
“Know that you stand on the shoulders of people who came before you, who have charted the course to do what you are doing, as young leaders,” said Harris, before reading from a card that was placed on the table beside her.
The Vice President went on to describe Josefa Escoda, Concepcion Calderon, and Cory Aquino as women “who were all in their 20s, in their 20s when they started becoming known in their role of leadership.”
Escoda, memorialized as one of three heroes on the 1,000 peso bill, founded the Girl Scouts of the Philippines and is a known civic leader and World War II heroine.
Calderon is recognized as one of the first feminists of the Philippines and is the founder of the Asociacion Feminista Filipina.
Aquino is the first woman president of the Philippines and was thrust into power after the assassination of her husband, the late senator Ninoy Aquino. Cory Aquino defeated the dictator Ferdinand E. Marcos in the 1986 snap elections – a result the older Marcos refused to accept.
Marcos and his family were forced to flee the country after the People Power Revolution but 36 years later, his son and namesake was elected 17th President of the Republic.
President Ferdinand Marcos Jr was whom Harris paid a call on prior to the townhall.
Harris’ point was that young leaders should understand that they follow a long line of leaders before them.
“And so the people who are heroes, whichever gender they are. They ran their part of the race and they passed us a baton. The question is, what will we do with the time we carry the baton?” she said.
But Cory Aquino wasn’t in her 20s when she took up the mantle of leadership.
Aquino, who lived in the United States until after her undergraduate studies, returned to the Philippines to study law when she met and later, married, the young Ninoy.
It was Cory who looked after their young family as Ninoy rose in prominence to be the youngest governor and then the youngest senator to be elected to the Philippines at that time.
Cory had chosen to stay out of the spotlight as much as she could, despite her husband’s prominence in politics. But her role changed during the Martial Law years, when she campaigned on behalf of her husband, an opposition figure that older Marcos ordered jailed.
It was Cory Aquino who led the Philippines in its messy transition back to democracy after over two decades under Marcos. Decades later, in the aftermath of her death, her only son, the late Benigno Aquino III, would be elected president
Harris’ parting words would have resonated in 1986 and ring true today.
“Do not despair. Do not be overwhelmed, do not be despondent. Do no throw up your hands when it’s time to roll up your selves…. never think of what you’re doing as fighting against something… you’re fighting for something,” she said.
Harris was in Manila from the 20th to the 22nd of November, after visiting Bangkok for the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation Summit.
Her visit is part of the US’s push to improving ties in the region and strengthening its influence in the Indo-Pacific. – Rappler.com