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    Nurturing a Culture of Empathy

    Message of VP Leni at the Seminar on Gender Sensitivity

    San Sebastian Recoletos, Manila

    delivered on 04 December 2017

    Fr. Nemesio Tolentin, San Sebastian College Recoletos President; Fr. Emeterio Buñao, VP for Administration; Fr. Rene Paglinawan, Director for Basic Education; Dr. Aisa Arlos, Senior High School Principal; Dr. Juliet Baltazar, Junior High School Principal; San Sebastian religious administrators and lay administrators; faculty, staff, students: Magandang hapon sa inyong lahat! Magandang hapon. [audience responds]

    You know, when I arrived, I told the fathers already that it is quite difficult to talk about gender sensitivity, especially to young people, kasi nagkakahiyaan, etcetera. Kaya sabi ko sa kanila I will talk for a little while, but let us be more open during the open forum so that iyong masasagot ko iyong mga gusto niyong masagot kasi baka iba iyong concerns ninyo sa idi-discuss namin. I think most of you are as old as my daughter. I also have a daughter who is in Grade 12, so may senior high school din akong anak. I hope the administrators will allow us to be more open, to be more candid, to be more casual during the open forum.

    If you will allow me, I will read over my speech for a while, but after that, let us devote more time for the open forum.

    Thank you again for having me today. Actually, hindi ko alam kung sino iyong nag-invite. I was just asked by my staff, “There is an invitation from San Sebastian Recoletos for you to talk before senior high school students. Will you accept the invitation?” Sabi ko naman, we’re always open. So Father, huwag po kayong mag-alala, kaladkarin po ako. Basta may imbitasyon na libre po ako, parati po akong pumupunta. It is not difficult at all to invite me. Nagkakaproblema lang po kapag mayroong conflict sa schedule.

    So thank you very much for having me today. I was telling your administrators that I have been here so many times, but only for weddings. I have been here to be a godmother for several weddings, but not inside the school campus. So I was surprised earlier that the campus was still very big kasi ang nakikita ko lang po iyong simbahan.

    So whenever I get around students as young as you are, I am reminded of the hope that is encapsulated in the minds and hearts of very young people like you: hope that springs from believing the unbelievable—iyon iyong mas gusto ko sa mga bata, kasi they still believe in what some adults think is already unbelievable—and from the desire also to think well of everyone, hope that is fueled by boundless energy and a desire to make a difference.

    Alam niyo, at the Office of the Vice President, I have a young staff. The average age of my staff is, I think, 26 years old. Even my chief of staff is less than 35 years old. My undersecretary is less than 35. And that has been deliberate. I always want to be surrounded by very young people because kapag bata pa—without any offense sa mga ka-edad ko—kapag mga bata pa, they always think that everything is possible so no limits. Wala pang masyadong sagabal sa gustong gawin.

    But you, young people, have never been at the forefront of massive positive changes the way you are today. During our time, ibang-iba pa. Look at many of the new companies that are changing the way people live. They are the results of young persons’ aspirations. Think of Facebook, think of Snapchat. Dati wala namang ganiyan.

    But more importantly, all over the world, youth-led movements are saving wildlife, distracting other youth from drugs, even toppling down dictators. You are living in a great period of history of mankind, when technology makes it easier to start a cause.

    So doesn’t it feel great to be a teenager today? Dati, noong kami ay kabataan pa, kapag may gusto kaming i-start na advocacy, it was very difficult. We could only do so in the small communities we live in. But the young people today, because of technology, you can just start pushing for an advocacy, ‘di ba, sa internet. You have a very wide reach already.

    But having said that, I also worry about your future. Gaya ng sabi ko, I have young children, as young as you are. Fear, hatred, and violence are becoming the new normal. Fake news, alternative facts, and post-truths are shared even when they are vicious and show no respect for gender sensitivity. Social media—which can be a potent tool for connectivity, positivity, and world-changing innovations—could become an outrage machine. Napansin niyo ba iyon? Ako, I’m very active on Facebook. But I remember the time when I started being on Facebook, masyado akong masaya because I found long-lost friends, I am in touch with friends who are from very far. Masayang masaya iyong Facebook na iyon. Pero I woke up one day, bubuksan ko iyong Facebook, lahat na nag-aaway. Mayroong mga dating magkaibigan who are unfriending each other. Mayroong mga magkakilala… Sometimes, even very decent people, nakikipag-away na din sa Facebook. Kaya iyong kaniyang purpose na dapat positive lang siya parati, parang natu-twist na and nagagamit na sa masama.

    And nakakalungkot isipin na maraming nag-aaway sa mundong ginagalawan natin. Hindi na natin alam kung ano ang totoo at ano ang hindi. Siguro may iba sa inyo—hindi ko alam kung may mga kaibigan kayo na nabiktima na rin, either ng fake news, bashing. May ipo-post tayo, mayroong natamaan sa pinost natin, aawayin tayo sa Facebook, binu-bully na tayo. Ako, parati akong biktima ng trolls, parati akong biktima ng fake news. Masakit kapag mayroong kinalaman ang pangungutya sa ating kasarian. I remember… You know, I have three daughters. Maraming tumitira sa akin sa Facebook and most of the time I do not react. And most trolls want to elicit a reaction from you. When they don’t get a reaction from me, iyong tatlo kong anak na babae iyong titirahin. And that’s sad. That’s sad not because my daughters are affected, but that’s sad because that shows how vicious the world is right now.

    So ang tanong: Ganito na ba talaga tayo? And I choose to believe that our society is not at all like this, because we are better than this. And that is why if ever there is a time to talk about gender sensitivity, it is now.

    Sadly, women are most often the targets. In recent weeks—hindi ko alam kung nabasa niyo—we have been hearing about sexual harassment of women here and around the world. There were stories in the news very recently about a Hollywood producer engaged in sexual harassment. Then the list of men accused of similar acts keep getting longer. Here in the Philippines, local indie bands were banned because of reported cases of sexual harassment. Ewan ko kung nabasa niyo iyon.

    According to a survey conducted in 2016 by the Social Weather Stations, three out of five women have experienced sexual harassment at least once in their lifetime, while one in seven men have admitted to harassing women. Nakuha niyo iyon? Three out of five women, naka-experience ng sexual harassment in their lifetime, pero one in seven lang sa kalalakihan ang umako na they victimized somebody.

    Every woman has an experience to share: a catcall from a driver, an uncomfortable stare from a stranger, and in many communities, it is not uncommon for women to get beaten up by people they trust and love. We have not completely created safe spaces for women and the LGBT community. But you see, this kind of culture perpetrates because at times, we lack awareness and the courage to speak up. That is why I am happy that your school is raising your awareness about gender sensitivity as early as now, while you are still very young.

    Kukuwentuhan ko lang kayo nang kaunti. I am a very new politician. I only became a politician in 2013, right at the heels of the plane crash, which took my husband’s life away. Iyong asawa ko talaga iyong pulitiko sa amin. For a very long time, he was mayor of our city, then he became the Secretary of the Interior and Local Government. And in all those times that he was in politics, I was out of it. I was a human rights lawyer. I have been working for the farmers and the fisherfolk, the indigenous peoples, laborers, urban poor, etcetera. And one of the sectors I have been helping are abused women.

    Itong mga kababaihan, madalas kaming mag-gender sensitivity training. Madalas. Sa mga communities, we organize them to be paralegals, etcetera. But you know, even with the paralegals that we trained, nadi-discover namin later on, they were victims of domestic abuse. And most of them stay silent for a very long time. kapag hindi na nakakayanan, saka lalabas. And you know, in Naga City, where I was practicing before, parang kaunti lang iyong women lawyers, and nakilala na ako na basta may binubugbog na babae, sa akin dadalhin. So I became very identified with helping abused women, so kapag may naaabusong babae, a barangay captain or a policeman would call for me and ask me to give legal assistance to the victim. And dati nga, wala pa kaming halfway house sa Naga; kapag nagre-rescue kami ng nabugbog na babae, sometimes our house would become the halfway house of the victim. And then, kapag nire-rescue namin iyong biktima, kadalasan galit na galit siya after siya i-rescue. And then we would ask her, “What kind of legal remedy would you want help from us with?” Kadalasan ang sasabihin, “Sawang sawa na po talaga ako.” Kadalasan kasi the perpetrator is the husband or the live-in partner or boyfriend or etcetera. Sasabihin, “Pagod na pagod na po ako. Matagal na akong nagdusa. Gusto ko na talagang magkaso.” And you know, when the victim says gusto na niyang magkaso, we are there to help her out. So we spend sleepless nights preparing for the complaint, so that the victim can file a case before the court. We would help her with the case.

    But when the case has been filed in the court, more often than not, nandoon na kami sa korte, hindi na sisipot iyong biktima. And I would be the only one who’s there. For a number of times, I had been reprimanded by the judge already kasi wala akong kliyente, hindi ako sinisipot. And later on, we will find out, hindi ako sinipot kasi bumalik ulit siya sa abusive relationship.

    And you know, these are women who know about gender sensitivity. These are women who have been lectured about what abuse is. But the reality is, even if they are aware that that is abuse, most of the time they are dependent on the perpetrators. Most of the time iyong mga kababaihan, walang sariling trabaho, walang perang pinagkukuhaan. Iyong asawa nilang perpetrator iyong nagpo-provide for the family. And they feel that they can’t live without the husband. So even if it is an abusive relationship, they keep going back.

    Kaya ko iyon isiningit kahit mga senior high [students] pa lang kayo, because this is the time to know what abuse is, and this is the time for you to parang develop that mindset that abuse is unacceptable. Sometimes kasi masyado nang matagal iyong abuse na nangyayari, na mahirap nang kumawala doon. So ngayon iyong panahon.

    So maybe you are wondering, “Ano ba iyong relevance nito sa amin? Kasi batang bata pa naman kami.” Some of you may not even have experienced being in a romantic relationship yet. Sa mga lalaki naman, parating sasabihin, “Iyang mga gender sensitivity na iyan, para lang iyan sa mga babae.”

    But the reality is that gender sensitivity is more than just protecting women from violence, or merely understanding women’s needs. Gender sensitivity is about working together and understanding that we truly cannot live without the other gender. That, in fact, companies are profitable, governments are stronger, and society is more nurturing when both men and women work together.

    Empathy, I believe, is what is greatly needed to fight the growing culture of hate and violence that we see every day. And ano ba iyong empathy? Empathy is often interchanged with sympathy, but those are two very different things.

    Sympathy is feeling sorry for another person. ‘Di ba kapag sinabi nating nagsi-sympathize tayo, sasabihin natin, “Kawawa naman siya.” But empathy is so much more than sympathy, because empathy requires that aside from feeling sympathy, we take time to listen, and we take time to act. We take time to feel what the other person is feeling.

    Ito iyong siguro isa sa pinakamahalagang natutunan ko sa matagal kong pag-aabugado sa mga kliyenteng nangangailangan ng tulong. Gaya ng sabi ko kanina, before I became a politician, I have been helping the most abused sector of our society, and it is difficult. It’s difficult to teach them of their rights when they feel dependence. Kapag sinabing dependent, iyong pakiramdam mo hindi ka mabubuhay nang wala iyong isa. Kapag sinabi mo dependence, pakiramdam mo wala kang sariling lakas. Kapag sinabi mong dependence, pakiramdam mo hindi ka mabubuo kung wala iyong isa.

    And I think this is the perfect time to teach that it is not very good na lumaki kayo na kayo ay dependent on somebody else. Of course all of us are dependent on our parents, ‘di ba? Pero habang tayo ay lumalaki, dapat kini-create na natin iyong certain level of independence, because it is independence that gives us power. It is independence which translates to empowerment. And kapag nata-translate iyon sa empowerment, doon nag-uumpisa iyong pagmamahal sa sarili, ano? Doon nag-uumpisa iyong pagpapahalaga sa sarili.

    And that is what empathy does—empathy teaches us to put ourselves in other people’s shoes and look at the world through their eyes. It teaches us to unlearn what we know about the world and reshape it based on what the person in front of us has experienced.

    Hindi ko alam kung naramdaman niyo na na may kaibigan kayo who is in an abusive relationship. Sasabihan mo, “Ang tanga tanga mo kasi. Hindi ka nag-iisip.” May nasabihan na ba kayo niyan? [audience reacts]

    Sasabihan niyo na, “Ang tanga tanga mo, hindi ka nag-iisip.” But you know, when you feel empathy, you will understand kung bakit siya ganiyan. And it is very important for us to empathize with friends who might be needing our help, para alam natin kung paano sila natutulungan.

    Alam ko, bilang mga kabataan, marami din tayong mga hugot, ‘di ba? Hindi ko na tatanungin who are into romantic relationships now, kasi nandiyan iyong mga teachers, baka ayaw niyong mag-reveal. Or who have been in relationships. But ito iyong panahon na nag-uumpisa na tayo, ‘di ba? You’re what, 16, 17 years old? Nag-uumpisa na to know more about the world, nag-uumpisa na to get into relationships. And I think this is the proper time to understand, or to value ourselves as a person, kasi it is in valuing ourselves as a person that we do not allow abuse to happen to us.

    And gaya ng sabi ko, mahalaga iyong empathy sa pagtutulong sa iba. Mahalaga iyong empathy kasi empathy starts with listening to others. Sabi ko nga, iyong empathy, hindi lang siya awa pero gawa. Empathy moves beyond self and puts others first before ourselves. That means when we interact with our peers, we need to look and listen to them with empathy. We need to be more sensitive in how we treat others—the way we think about them, the way we talk to them, the way we act around them, especially those who belong to the other gender.

    We need to treat people of all genders with respect, not just because our teachers and our parents say so, but because disrespect breeds disrespect, and respect breeds respect. Kasi iyong pang-aabuso, parati siyang nag-uumpisa sa disrespect. If there is respect, there will be no abuse.

    So let me reiterate: gender sensitivity is not just about women, but a lot of it has to do with men. Young men, if you want to be respected, then start with yourselves. Cat-calling and coarse jokes cultivate a culture of fear and violence. In these extraordinary times, we need you, young men, to rise and stand up for women. We need men who are brave, who are unafraid to speak up for what is right. Sinasabi natin iyon kasi minsan uso-uso lang, eh. Sinasabi natin iyon kasi minsan nakiki-jamming lang. Pero hindi natin alam that what we are doing is already the start of a culture of disrespect that can only ripen into a culture of violence and abuse.

    But that does not mean that we, women, sit in the sidelines and sulk in silence. We also need to speak up. But the way to fight misogyny is not through arrogance or anger. We fight through empathy and understanding. Because you see, gender equality is never about women competing with men. It is about understanding each other’s unique role in society and working together.

    Kaya having said this, let me challenge you today: What kind of people do you want to become. Ano? Iyon siguro iyong pinakatanong natin. When you grow older, what kind of people do you want to become? Kasi paminsan, when we’re young, we’re careless. Akala natin lahat na ginagawa natin would not matter. Sasabihin natin, “Paglaki ko magbabago ako. Ngayon, mag-e-enjoy muna ako.”

    But everything that you’re doing now, ano iyan, dala-dala niyo iyan hanggang sa lumaki kayo. So if you want to be good people in the future, doing good already starts now. Kaya parating inuulit: if you want to command respect, we have to respect ourselves first.

    Kaya ito, everything is interrelated. It’s a chain. Walang nakahiwalay doon sa chain na iyon. And now you are at a crucial point in your life, because your actions will change the future. Whatever values you learn now will define the kind of person you will become.

    Sino ba dito ang nanonood ng Harry Potter? May nanonood ba dito ng Harry Potter? [audience reacts] Mayroong sinabi si Dumbledore. Mayroong sinabi si Dumbledore kay Harry Potter, and uulitin ko iyong sinabi ni Dumbledore, kasi iyon din iyong sasabihin ko sa inyo. Ang sabi ni Dumbledore: “It is our choices, Harry, that show what we truly are, far more than our abilities.”

    Hindi iyong husay. Hindi iyong husay ang magde-define sa atin. Puwedeng mahusay tayo sa klase, pero baka iyong pagdesisyon natin, baka iyong choices natin, hindi maayos. So parating iyong pag-define sa ating pagkatao, kung ano iyong everyday choices na ginagawa natin. So iyong lahat na ginagawa natin, mayroon iyong tuldok sa ating pagkatao, at iyong tuldok na iyon, dala-dala natin hanggang lumaki tayo.

    So in closing, I hope that as you go through life, you would hold on to the values of empathy and moral integrity, because these are what will save us as we go through life’s challenges in the future.

    Posted in Speeches on Dec 14, 2017