25 March 2017
Message at the Belle du Jour Women’s Summit, SM Aura
The modern Filipina we know today takes on multiple roles in her daily life: she is a homemaker, a professional, a teacher to her children, and then she is someone’s partner in life. There are even instances when she is both the mother and father of her children.
Being a full-time mother and an elected official at the same time is a tough balancing act. More so now: After my husband’s passing five years ago, I have to be both mother and father to my three daughters.
With this comes the desire to protect them from all things, even fake news and post-truths. That is a struggle that we face seven days a week without break, even during storms and holidays. Sadly, today’s world is not safe for all women. Attacks and harassment on social media, including threats of rape and bodily harm, are just as painful as attacks in real life. But on social media, we are a lot more vulnerable. Safety and protection are a lot more difficult to find in the digital arena.
Ask any mother and they will say the same thing: the work never gets easier as the years go by. But at the end of the day, spending time with your children and seeing them happy makes everything worthwhile. And when times get rough, it is their presence that makes every fight worth it.
During last year’s campaign, my daughters said that they were more than willing to share me with the country. They believed in me, perhaps just as my husband had and would have, and saw what I was capable of. With their blessing, I could not refuse the call to serve.
Decisions like these do not come easy. Our biological limitations may cause us to hesitate from trying to stretch our potential. But being a woman also carries with it unique strengths.
The skills to prioritize and multitask, to nurture with care and comfort, to empathize and connect—these are strengths given to women for a reason. In the face of the latest attacks on myself and my office, I have found solace in the fact that empathy empowers, while meanness and criticism imprisons. Negativity turns anyone into a smaller person. So, even as the lies go on unabated, we focus on why we are here: the work of helping the poor and the marginalized.
Last Tuesday, we went to Tangkal in Lanao del Norte, Dayawan in Marawi City, Saguiaran and Piagapo in Lanao del Sur. We have brought development partners with us to the beautiful women weavers of Marawi, who will find a market for their exquisite, hand-woven cloths.
We cried with the farmers of Tangkal, who said they have not seen anyone from the national government for decades. The women farmers of Saguiaran and Barangay Udalo, traditionally left to tend the land because their men are out defending it, received seedlings and other farm inputs from Phinma Corporation. These give us reason to go on despite the difficulties. The work continues and it is more important than the position itself.
You see, in the work of public service, there will always be criticisms and pain. There will always be people who will try to bring you down. What I have learned from years of watching my husband as mayor, and from personally serving my district as congresswoman, and now serving the country as Vice-President, is this: you must do the right thing all the time, even if it means people will seek to take your position from you.
You must speak the truth all the time, even if you feel like you are the only one who believes in it. You must never be afraid of losing a fight, if you know you have nothing to hide. What is the use of being on the safe side, when you can’t speak out for the voiceless?
I have heard of countless success stories of women who emerged larger than life, living their dreams and turning them into reality. Stories of these women always fill me with pride, as if they were my own, because we all know what it takes for women to get where they need to be.
For example, let me tell you of the inspiring story of Fe Carranza who I met in Naga. She sold tofu in front of the Naga City Hall when my husband was still mayor, and she was impossible to miss. Her movement was limited because she was afflicted with polio from childhood, but her limitations did not hinder from working.
We endorsed Fe to the Department of Science and Technology where she was educated on working with soya and baking equipment. Eventually, she built a successful business from selling tofu, soya milk, soya coffee, taho jelly and soya bread. She later on was recognized as one of the most outstanding micro-entrepreneurs in Naga.
There is also Nanay Lorna. Nanay Lorna has a sari-sari store in Quezon City where she sells merienda like turon and banana cue. She is widowed, a single parent to four children. She worked day and night to send all four to school, and raised them to value hard work and excellence.
Now, all three of her children are already professionals: one is a lawyer, another is a teacher, the third is a nurse. Her youngest son is also studying to be a doctor at the University of the Philippines. You could only imagine how proud she is, and all the work she had to endure to make ends meet.
Yes, all these are possible, because these women are strong-willed and determined, and had the support of other women who cheered them on, never losing faith in what the Filipina can achieve.
This is what it truly means to be empowered and be empowering. It means to stand by each other’s side and fight for a seat at the table to make a change in society. It means to invest, to give the Filipina a fighting chance to transform herself.
That is why, when I took office, we took it upon ourselves to focus on the issue of food security, rural development, public healthcare, education, and women empowerment. We turned the Office of the Vice President into an advocacy-based center that links government to private groups to better serve our fellow countrymen in dire need of assistance.
For example, our office launched Angat Buhay, an anti-poverty program aimed to do exactly as it says: to uplift the life of the Filipino, particularly the marginalized. Through our flagship program, we want to restore the humanity and hope of the poor Filipino family through empowerment and people participation.
At present, we schedule visits to far-flung communities and reach out to them to address their needs. Since the start of our term 33 weeks ago, we have been visiting every week the last, the least, and the lost.
More often than not, during our visit, we see Filipinas who have visions and bright ideas, who want to escape but are trapped in poverty, patiently waiting for the right opportunity.
We want to change that face of helplessness and give them hope again. The dream is to give these women a chance to build a better future for their children and their families. The poor who we seek are not just beneficiaries—the help we give them do not come in forms of dole-outs or charity. They are our partners in our fight against poverty.
And perhaps this is my call to you as well: Let us reach out and connect with disempowered women outside our circles. The work may seem endless, but each connection builds a network of very strong women—the collective light of our nation.
In extraordinary times such as now, when our freedoms are threatened and our voices overpowered, the Filipina woman we need is someone with a lot of heart and a strong, independent mind.
Hers is a story marked with struggles and victories, a voice that is not afraid to be heard, even if it means pain and criticism.
Hers is a quiet yet extraordinary strength, a commitment to do the right thing at whatever cost.
Hers is the face of hope and grace under fire, a source of light to guide every Filipina.
Thank you very much for having me today, maraming salamat sa inyong lahat, at magandang hapon muli.