Transform rage into courage
Vice President Leni Robredo has decided. Head and heart have finally aligned. Our Vice President Leni has firmed up her resolve to work for people, by continuing her work without the constraints of being part of cabinet. Her decision means that she will work for those “in the fringes of society” by working on the “fringes of government.” The fact that she will work outside the cabinet can be considered a blessing – for it gives her brand of principled politics, one that is anchored on a brave way of doing politics from below, a real chance of working though it will certainly be challenged by the traditional politics of the day.
Nothing happens by chance. Things always happen for a reason. In the case of our Vice President Leni, there must be plausible reasons why she assumes her mandate as the people’s chosen second-in-command outside or “on the fringes” of the President’s official family, the Cabinet. She now literally occupies a rather unique place in our politics that may fit in well with an apt phrase coined in her campaign which we can paraphrase, “sa laylayan ng bagong pamahalaan.”
It is imperative that among those who continue to lead are men and women imbued with character who will retain both independence and the capacity to take different positions on diverse issues, based on principles such as her opposition to the burial of the dictator Marcos at the Libingan ng Mga Bayani, her opposition to extra-judicial killings and the re-imposition of the death penalty, and her opposition to sexual attacks against women – all of which she enumerated in her letter of resignation.
Given her life-long advocacy, her track record, her personal gifts and her passion for causes she holds dear, it would seem logical that Leni Robredo’s principal focus would be to help improve the lives of our people, particularly, the women folk whom she has supported unstintingly in her previous work as alternative legal defender, non-governmental worker, local government activist both as companion to the mayor of a provincial city and legislator representing a provincial district in the province of Bicol.
What could this mean in the concrete? Catalyze the formation of a movement, not an organization but rather inspire a direction, that would summon the better angels of our people toward promoting a critical citizens’ cause: improving the lives of women and girls in our midst, in rural and urban areas, who are more vulnerable; to listen and learn from them, and explore ways that they can take the initiative and chart paths towards their liberation and their betterment as well as the improvement of the lives of their families and communities. In so doing, we will be forging the kind of character we need in our social and political life. Character in politics!
Galvanizing citizens’ courage
Making such a call and convening such an effort – requiring both courage and concern – could be piloted in selected areas in the poorer regions of the country such as the ARRM or Eastern Visayas or Mindanao, and Bicol. These experiments in building empowered communities through the involvement of women could then shine like the light on the hill or the beacon that can keep our people’s hopes alive.
This vision, I believe, can energize the formation of an empowering vehicle for self-sustaining communities where women and girls can play a central part. In so doing, and given adequate resources and support structures, they can thus make a real contribution to the well-being of an entire country.
In sum, the VP’s brief can be understood as the undertaking to unleash the energies of half a country – our womenfolk; and, their contribution is crucial as the country moves forward in the more competitive period of the ASEAN integration. This process could take shape under the rubric of concerted but separate efforts striving towards a shared sense of purpose that will focus on improving the lives of women who are most vulnerable – “sa ika-uunlad ng mga kababaihan sa laylayan ng lipunan.”
Women in 5 sectors
The focus of the undertaking could initially be given to women and girls in at least five basic sectors of society:
- Rural women, particularly, those engaged in farms, working as farmers or related fields;
- Women workers, women working in factories, or in the retail or service industries;
- Urban poor women, women who as heads of households or partners who live in urban poor areas across different regions of the country;
- Women working as fisherfolk or in work related to the fishing industry;
- Indigenous peoples, women who belong to the indigenous peoples such as the lumads or those in Cordillera and Bangsamoro, and whose rights need to be promoted and protected.
Focus could be given to five strategic areas of endeavor, in consultation with the women concerned, their groups and communities:
- Livelihood (providing opportunities and training for earning livelihoods that are meaningful, dignified and well-remunerated);
- Education (focusing on the girls and youth in education, as well as the teachers, trainors and mentors in society);
- Health (dealing with the mothers and those nurturing infants, the ill and those in need of medical care, and nutrition);
- Housing and Social Security (focusing on the elderly among them);
- Democratic Participation (addressing concerns of women by women who are able to participate socially and politically in the democratic project, assuming leadership roles in the community and engaged in the formulation of policies and in decision-making).
Others sectors supporting these efforts could be mobilized, among them – initially and principally:
- Local Governments (relevant barangay, local, municipal and provincial units);
- Media (national and local, print, broadcast and visual media; as well as theatre, the arts, and employing social media);
- Business (engaging national, regional and local business organisations or aggrupations by trade or industry),
- Schools (engaging the youth and the teachers);
- Churches (engaging religious leaders of different faiths and their agencies focused on social action and basic ecclesial communities).
5 other areas of concern
Five other areas of concern, among others, can complement this thrust involving work in inter-related spheres:
- Peace (supporting the peace process in Bangsamoro where a Framework Peace Agreement has already been signed and now needs consolidation; as well as, the emerging peace process with the National Democratic Front/the CPP/the NPA);
- Human Rights (ensuring that the full respect for human rights and the rule of law be given prominence amidst calls for “rapid elimination of crime as well as criminals”);
- Women’s Rights (the promotion and protection of women’s rights and the dignity of women at all levels and in all aspects of life, ensuring that no disrespect is shown women in public and private);
- Environment (addressing concerns related to climate change, climate justice and linking our efforts to the recently-concluded Paris climate pact);
- Disaster-Preparedness (working at disaster-preparedness particularly in areas prone to flooding and other disasters either due to weather changes or disturbances and natural causes such as unbridled mining and unregulated extractive industries).
It is often said that the mark of a true leader is one who can transform risks into opportunities; who can read signs of hope in situations that for most only spell disaster; who can show resilient character in times of adversity.
In the case of our vice president Leni Robredo, she is in fact given an unedited opportunity or, in a manner of speaking, being handed a more or less blank slate where she can draw the lines – knowing that the main protagonists of the story are the women whose interests she has always had in her heart. The country indeed is blest that the candidate who has won the vice-presidency is a woman of integrity, of commitment and deep passion. That is a rare blessing indeed.
In her letter of resignation, Vice President Leni explained the reasons which led her to tender her irrevocable resignation from cabinet. Many people are enraged, we feel the pain and the anger.
For just as the people elected a president who run on a platform of law and order, pledging to dramatically stamp out crime and drugs in a brief span of time, by all means and measures, we have side by side elected someone quite extraordinary: a woman of uncommon valor, truly a woman of courage with a marathon mentality without the drama, one who has excelled in quiet work from below – and, hopefully, one who can bring out our country’s better angels. – Rappler.com
(Ed Garcia taught political science at the University of the Philippines where one of her students was Ma. Leonora Gerona . He worked at Amnesty International and International Alert in London for over two decade, served as a framer of the 1987 Constitution, and now works as a consultant on formation at FEU Diliman.)