women leaders

‘Six Filipino Women for Justice’ book celebrates courage amid injustice

Michelle Abad

This is AI generated summarization, which may have errors. For context, always refer to the full article.

‘Six Filipino Women for Justice’ book celebrates courage amid injustice

BOOK LAUNCH. Former Ombudsman Conchita Carpio Morales, former senator Leila de Lima, and activist nun Sister Mary John Mananzan join book authors and publishers of the 'Six Filipino Women for Justice' book in Makati on April 26, 2024.

Michelle Abad/Rappler

The stories of former vice president Leni Robredo, former senator Leila de Lima, Senator Risa Hontiveros, former Ombudsman Conchita Carpio Morales, Rappler CEO Maria Ressa, and activist nun Sister Mary John Mananzan are highlighted in a new anthology

MANILA, Philippines – Amid a culture of machismo and oppression, six Filipino women became champions of working towards justice in their country.

San Anselmo Press on Friday, April 26, launched Six Filipino Women for Justice, an anthology of profiles highlighting the lives and works of former vice president Leni Robredo, former senator Leila de Lima, Senator Risa Hontiveros, former Ombudsman Conchita Carpio Morales, Rappler CEO and Nobel laureate Maria Ressa, and activist nun Sister Mary John Mananzan.

The book’s editor, Asuncion David Maramba, wrote in the prefatory essay that three of the women were highlighted as targets of injustice, while the other three have been defenders and fighters for justice. De Lima, Robredo, and Ressa comprised the former, and Hontiveros, Morales, and Mananzan were featured as the latter.

“Their stories are not just narratives of personal triumphs, but are also powerful catalysts for change and inspiration, encouraging each of us to reflect on our own roles in fostering justice and equality in Philippine society,” said San Anselmo executive publisher Marvin Aceron during the Friday launch in Makati.

Fighting for accountability

Three of the subjects of the book were physically present at the launch on Fridya, among them, De Lima, who is still enjoying the first months of freedom after her almost seven-year detention that began during the Duterte regime. 

De Lima became one of former president Rodrigo Duterte’s staunchest critics when both began terms in national office in 2016. As chair of the Senate committee on justice and human rights, De Lima launched a probe into extra-judicial killings under Duterte’s watch.

In 2017, the Department of Justice, which she once led as secretary, filed charges against her for her alleged involvement in the drug trade in the New Bilibid Prison, a claim she and her camp has always denied. As of posting, two of three of those charges have been dropped.

Even during her incarceration, she continued to perform her senatorial responsibilities as much as she could. For one, she filed a resolution seeking an investigation into the reported killing of children by police or vigilantes. 

“Mr. Duterte was also unable to kill the messenger, literally and figuratively. I survived his persecution, I survived his men, I survived his jail. That in itself is a testament to the strength of the feminine spirit moved by conviction,” De Lima said at the launch.

‘Six Filipino Women for Justice’ book celebrates courage amid injustice

De Lima said that her battle was the battle of the minority who resisted the Duterte administration. De Lima said of the book, “It is all about us women who fought at a time most of the men fell silent.”

“The misogyny and male chauvinist hubris of the Duterte regime was a war against women. That is why it had to be fought mainly by women. And we did not disappoint. We fought like hell, and because we fought like hell, we are now standing here watching Duterte in his dying breed of chauvinists as their world gets smaller,” she said.

Former Ombudsman and Supreme Court associate justice Conchita Carpio Morales was also present at the Makati launch. Morales, with at least 47 years of government experience, transcended political lines and was an appointee of five presidents. 

She proceeded to work on ill-gotten wealth cases in the SC, handled the plunder charges against former president Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, and indicted Arroyo’s successor Benigno Aquino III for usurpation of legislative powers, among many other cases that sought the truth when power was seen to be abused.

“We have had our share of leaders who have risen and fallen because of their abuse of power, and therefore met what they [call] poetic justice,” said Morales.

“I urge you to please continue making our leaders accountable for their official acts, and be a witness to the rectification of the imbalance, injustice, and in the rule of law,” she added.

Relentless service, a thirst for truth

Robredo, Hontiveros, and Ressa gave virtual messages as they had other engagements during the book launch. 

Robredo led the opposition when she was vice president during the Duterte administration. Her relationship with Duterte quickly turned sour, and Robredo became the target of disinformation despite continuing to exercise transparency and public service, even with a limited budget.

The disinformation and attacks continued, and were emphasized when she decided to run for president in 2022. Her closest rival was dictator’s son Ferdinand Marcos Jr. who won the post by a landslide.

Speaking fondly of the five other women, Robredo said,: “Our collective experience is one defined by struggles, rooting from deeply ingrained societal biases, double standards, and discrimination. It is difficult to be a woman, even more so to be a woman leader, especially in the face of consequential points in our nation’s history.”

Robredo, who now leads nongovernment organization Angat Buhay, emphasized the prevalence of social inequality.

“The world now revolves at a rapid pace, thanks to technological advances. Yet, millions of our fellow Filipinos are still steeped in poverty, bereft of education and opportunities to catch up with the demands of our times. Modern technology and social media have been weaponized by the powerful few, tearing our social fabric apart for their own self-centered agenda,” she said.

The former vice president said she hopes the book will inspire conversations about each Filipino’s role in making justice attainable for all, especially with the public “losing trust” in the law and justice system.

Robredo’s ally and now de-facto opposition leader Senator Risa Hontiveros spent most of her speech praising the other women who were honored in the book alongside her.

“Fighting alongside all of you has been one of the greatest honors of my life so far. Fighting for justice is essential for our democracy, for nation-building, for peace,” she said.

Hontiveros, the highest elected opposition member in the current administration, has sought justice for human rights violations against women and children in Senate probes. She has also been a critical voice against China’s aggression in the West Philippine Sea.

Nobel Peace Prize laureate Ressa, taking a selfie video of herself for her speech while walking the streets of New York, said that more work was to be done as disinformation remained rampant, especially with the emergence of generative artificial intelligence.

“We’re working. There’s so much work to do, but these times are pivotal. And as we in the Philippines prepare for our elections in 2025, 2024 will be a critical year that will determine whether or not democracy as we know it survives,” she said.

Mananzan kept her message short and sweet, saying she was humbled to be in the company of the five other women, most of whom have held high government positions. “My goodness, senator, vice president, I am in a clausura. What did I do to be among them?”

Her years of activism and credentials speak for themselves – the Benedictine nun has worked as a political and feminist activist for decades. She was a founding member of FILIPINA in the 1970s, one of the first women’s organizations in the country. Mananzan was elected GABRIELA chair in 1986, a militant organization of Filipinas fighting for women’s rights. She has been red-tagged, or linked to communist rebels for her activism.

As dean in St. Scholastica’s College, she developed a syllabus for the Philippines’ first Women’s Studies program, leading to the establishment of the Institute of Women’s Studies in 1985. She has spoken publicly against human trafficking, violence against women, and the commodification of women.

Even as the Catholic Church fought against the enactment of the Reproductive Health Law in the early 2010s, Mananzan believed in it. She is also for the enactment of the SOGIE equality bill, which seeks to penalize discrimination against Filipinos related to their sexual orientation, gender identity, and gender expression (SOGIE), despite religious actors also pressing against it.

Asked by Rappler how her faith influences her activism, Mananzan said that she takes after Jesus Christ.

“I am a nun, therefore I am a follower of Christ. And if Christ had an option for the poor, then I should have an option for the poor. And if the poor are discriminated against and are oppressed, I have to be with them, not only in words, but with them in picket lines, in rallies. In other words, I have to be an activist for them and with them,” she said.

‘Six Filipino Women for Justice’ book celebrates courage amid injustice

She told the live audience, “I promise to be an activist forever.”

The following were the authors of the profiles: Rosario Garcellano for De Lima, Ed Garcia for Robredo, Dulce Festin-Baybay for Ressa, Rafael Ongpin for Hontiveros, Maria Olivia Tripon for Morales, and Neni Sta. Romana Cruz for Mananzan. 

A copy of Six Filipino Women for Justice can be ordered from San Anselmo Publications, Inc. – Rappler.com

Add a comment

Sort by

There are no comments yet. Add your comment to start the conversation.

Summarize this article with AI

How does this make you feel?

Download the Rappler App!
Clothing, Apparel, Person


Michelle Abad

Michelle Abad is a multimedia reporter at Rappler. She covers the rights of women and children, migrant Filipinos, and labor.