OF TREES AND FOREST
By MANNY VILLAR
The Philippine Senate just celebrated its 102nd founding anniversary. I congratulate the members of the Senate, the staff, and all the employees on this historic occasion.
Founded in 1916, the Senate has remained an important democratic institution in the country. Through all the challenges of history it has remained steadfast in its purpose—promote our democracy and serve the Filipino people. It has been at the center of controversies but it has also been the key stabilizing force in our political history.
One of the reasons why I look back fondly to my 12 years of service in the august halls of the Senate is not only the camaraderie I experienced with fellow public servants but also the remembrance that I have joined and led such a prestigious institution in the service of the people.
The latest survey of Pulse Asia showed that the top five preferences of voters are all women with six women entering the so-called Magic 12. I am proud to say that three of these candidates—Cynthia Villar, Pia Cayetano and Imee Marcos—belong to the Nacionalista Party.
This is definitely welcome development. As a country, we have come a long way in terms of women empowerment, specifically in the political arena. There are still a lot of room for improvement of course but we have made great strides towards gender equality.
We elected our first woman senator in 1947—Senator Geronima Josefa T. Pecson. Born in Lingayen, Pangasinan, Senator Pecson focused on education and also owns the distinction of being first Filipino and first woman elected to the executive board of UNESCO.
According to data from the Commission on Elections (Comelec), more and more women are running for, and winning, elective positions. This is very important. We need more women in politics. In the Senate, women are important because they contribute a unique perspective in legislation, debates, and national development. We need all the other sectors of society to be able to represent their interests in the deliberative and representative halls of the Senate.
The fact, of course, is that men still dominate the political field. The COMELEC reported that in 2013 only 18% of the total candidates were women. It was even less in 2010 when only 14% were women candidates.
I remember when I ran for the Senate the first time in 2001, only one woman candidate made it as Loi Ejercito-Estrada joined incumbents Loren Legarda and Tessie Oreta in the 12th Congress.
When I ran for reelection in 2007, only Loren made it but she topped that year’s senate elections. The 13th and 14th Congress had 4 women senators, while the last Congress I served had 3: Loren, Pia and the late great Senator Miriam Defensor Santiago.
We need to do more in order to ensure full and equitable participation of women in politics because they are essential to building strong, vibrant democracies. The meaningful participation of women in political leadership, especially in policymaking not only advances gender equality but also diversifies the policy priorities of government.
As former UN chief Kofi Anan strongly argued about women’s empowerment: “No other policy is as likely to raise economic productivity or to reduce child and maternal mortality. No other policy is as sure to improve nutrition and promote health, including the prevention of HIV/AIDS. No other policy is as powerful in increasing the chances of education for the next generation.”
It goes without saying that women in politics is not the only solution to all our problems but it is a crucial step towards addressing the issues of inequality and underdevelopment.